Abu Dhabi-bound Carlos Alcaraz will fight to keep world top spot

Abu Dhabi-bound Carlos Alcaraz will fight to keep world top spot
Nineteen-year-old Carlos Alcaraz becomes the youngest ATP player ever to end the year ranked number one. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2022

Abu Dhabi-bound Carlos Alcaraz will fight to keep world top spot

Abu Dhabi-bound Carlos Alcaraz will fight to keep world top spot
  • Spanish tennis star will ramp up 2023 preparations with first Mubadala championship appearance

When Carlos Alcaraz lifted the US Open trophy in New York and became the youngest world No. 1 in ATP history, the Spaniard said it was a dream come true.

Three months on, the 19-year-old feels like he is still dreaming, as he admits it still hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

“It sounds like a dream for me. Honestly, there are so many times I think about this year, about my position right now, and I still can’t believe it. I’m thinking, ‘Is this real? I’m No.1 in the world?’ I’m dreaming. It’s something I have to realize someday,” Alcaraz told Arab News in an interview ahead of his upcoming Mubadala World Tennis Championship debut.

One of the possible reasons Alcaraz still hasn’t fully comprehended his achievements is that he hasn’t even had time to celebrate. “I’m going to have a team dinner with everyone, it’s going to be the best moment of the year,” he said.

The tennis merry-go-round barely stops, spinning at an unforgiving speed, giving little chance for players to take a moment to appreciate their victories or grieve their losses.

The day after Alcaraz won a maiden Grand Slam crown in New York, he hopped onto a plane to Valencia to join his Spanish teammates at the Davis Cup. He then competed in Astana, Basel and Paris, before pulling out of his last two events of the season due to a muscle tear in his left abdomen.

He has “almost 100 percent” recovered from the injury and expects to be training “normally” within a week.

“I had so many tournaments and had no time to realize 100 percent the US Open. Of course it was a great feeling for me. All I can say is that nothing changed,” Alcaraz said when asked about what it felt like being a Grand Slam champion and the men’s top-ranked player at events after the US Open.

For him, the tour just kept on going and he just tried to keep up.



“Obviously yes, all the people want to beat the No. 1 in the world. I could feel that after the US Open everyone had a target on me and everyone wanted to face me on court. That’s what I have to be prepared for,” he added.

Alcaraz has a 6-4 win-loss record after the US Open, including a pair of defeats to Felix Auger-Aliassime, an opening round exit to David Goffin in Astana, and a retirement in the Paris Masters quarterfinals against eventual champion Holger Rune.

“After the US Open it was difficult to adapt to his new role on the tour for him,” explained Alcaraz’s coach, former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

“I was talking to him about how he had to manage everything but I think he needed to feel and to live it, go to a tournament and feel that pressure of being No. 1, playing matches being No. 1. It’s not very easy at the beginning and at the age of 19, it’s something that is not super mature to control everything that happened to him right now.

“He’s in a moment where he needs to live it like this and to feel what he’s going through and adapting. He knows it’s going to be like this until at least the Australian Open, so he needs to try to be normal but at the same time it’s not. But he has to.”



Alcaraz says he is fully prepared to lose his No. 1 spot, given the fierce competition at the top and the pressure of defending five titles next year. But the Spanish teenager emphasizes he would do everything to “recover the number,” noting how the Grand Slams would once again be his main goal for 2023.

If Alcaraz is ever short on inspiration on how to navigate his first year as a world No. 1, he could perhaps look no further than the women’s tour, where Iga Swiatek has been thriving at the summit.

The 21-year-old Pole abruptly rose to the top of the rankings when Ashleigh Barty announced her surprise retirement from the sport in March.

Swiatek grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran with it, going on a 37-match winning streak across a five-month period before losing in the Wimbledon third round in July.

“I see her year has been incredible, she broke a record I think for the longest winning streak (this century). It’s amazing,” Alcaraz said of Swiatek.

“I wish to be like her, to not lose the No. 1. But I think it’s almost impossible. I’m going to lose it but the point is to recover it and stay there at No. 1 as much as I can.”



One thing Alcaraz has in common with Swiatek is how much they believe in the importance of sports psychology in their profession.

Swiatek has a traveling sports psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, with her at the majority of her events and the work they do together has proven to be a real game-changer for her.

Alcaraz works with a psychologist named Isabel Balaguer and Ferrero says the team benefits greatly from her expertise and that “she is a big and important side of our work.”

“It’s been about two years he’s working with her. It’s not like every week but every time that he feels he needs to talk to her about something that maybe is not right or something that is giving him more troubles in a match, he talks to her and tries to fix it a little bit,” said Ferrero.

“I talk to her every week. She talks to me about how he’s doing, how he’s practicing and all the things we’ve been talking about that he went through after the US Open, we’re trying to handle all the package, so she’s working very well.”

Ferrero and Alcaraz have been working together since the end of 2018 and have formed a special bond. The former French Open champion sees Alcaraz as “another son” and feels they share the same values.



Alcaraz’s meteoric rise has come with an incredible degree of popularity, both inside Spain and across the globe. His infectious energy, exciting game style, and humility on and off the court has taken the tennis world by storm — and the raucous Arthur Ashe stadium crowd that roared through his US Open matches in the fall was testament to that.

“It’s very special for us, I’m very happy the way that people love him and I think it’s because of his strength on the court and his passion and his way to say ‘vamos,’ I think people feel this potential in him and this kind of passion,” explained Ferrero.

“I remember since the moment that I started working with him, we were traveling around the world when he was 16 or 17, even at that moment when he wasn’t that famous, he was very charismatic at the tournaments, all the people were going there to watch Carlos on the court. It doesn’t surprise me too much to see all the people loving him, he smiles, he’s very kind to everyone, he’s a nice guy.”

Ferrero credits Alcaraz’s family for the way his charge handles himself and for not putting pressure on him.

“Carlos is lucky about the family he has. His father … played tennis in Spain at a very high level, he was in the top 30, so he is able to understand how his son has to work with the coach,” stated Ferrero.

“I’m here at the academy, he let him grow up and not be involved absolutely in everything. I think his father has trusted me since the beginning and he lets me work in all areas very fluid. We have a very good relationship.”



Ferrero will be heading to Abu Dhabi soon with Alcaraz, where the Spaniard will face Andrey Rublev or Frances Tiafoe in his opening match on Friday Dec. 17.

The tournament in Abu Dhabi will give them a chance to make use of the great practice facilities at Zayed Sports City, to hit with other top players at the event, and compete in a real match setting.

Ferrero knows 2023 would require a huge amount of work from Alcaraz to maintain his place among the game’s elite. “He has to work on everything. He’s 19, next year he turns 20, but at that age it’s impossible to be complete in all areas,” said the Valencia coach.

“So let’s say forehand he has to work on small details, backhand as well, of course he has to be more consistent on the serve, on the return I want him to be even more aggressive, on the net he needs to clean a little bit some of the mistakes he does. I prepared the end of the season very specifically to try to improve a lot of things.

“You cannot tell someone that just because he is No. 1 that he is very complete and he doesn’t need to work, it’s absolutely the opposite. He needs to keep working in all areas he needs to, and it’s what we’re going to do.”

Jeddah MMA fighter eyes success as Saudi’s leading contender

Jeddah MMA fighter eyes success as Saudi’s leading contender
Updated 27 March 2023

Jeddah MMA fighter eyes success as Saudi’s leading contender

Jeddah MMA fighter eyes success as Saudi’s leading contender
  • 22-year-old Nawef Chahlal has already competed in the flagship French MMA Supreme League, as well as across Europe

RIYADH: Long established as one of the world’s fastest-growing spectator sports of the 21st century, Mixed Martial Arts is starting to get a foothold in Saudi Arabia as a participatory one as well.

It might still be relatively early, but hopefuls from across the Kingdom are slowly but surely making their move into regional and, in the future, international competitions.

For one of them, Nawef Chahlal, inspiration came from a close source.

The 22-year-old prodigy from Jeddah told Arab News that his father’s passion for boxing served as the impetus for him to enter the sport.

“My father, he always supported me, since my beginnings. He used to come to my fights when I was a kid, he used to assist me, he even coached me sometimes,” said Chahlal.

After growing up in France as a big fan of Bruce Lee, considered by many as the godfather of MMA, Chahlal competed in the country’s flagship MMA Supreme League, as well as across Europe.

“One of the biggest competitions I had the opportunity to participate in was the Supreme League, and (I) also had the chance to fight in many countries in Europe, notably in Hungary, Switzerland, Croatia and Spain, but in another discipline, K1,” he said.

Chahlal’s record in K1 is 8-3-0, and with the flyweight fighter looking to sign his first MMA contract next week - a three-fight deal in AEF Championship - his first professional bout is set to take place on Oct.14.

The road ahead — as was the case with his journey so far — will be a difficult one, and Chahlal explained that there are many challenges for him to overcome in order to thrive in the sport, including finances and other rising talents.

“We weren’t poor, but let’s just say that as we grow up, we all have expenses that accumulate and it’s a bit complicated sometimes,” he said. “Beyond the money, if we stay really focused on the sport, there is also the fact of the strong competition in the field, which is a real challenge but which pushes us to surpass ourselves.”

Chahlal aspires to be the biggest name for KSA in the world of MMA.

“I visualize a very precise goal: to be the first Saudi world champion in different MMA organizations, and one day to reach the biggest world federations such as UFC, One, KSW, and to represent the flag of Saudi Arabia.

"Give me some time. I will make you proud and make our country go down in the history of combat sports,” he said.

Chahlal’s coach Mathis Nazil, from the French Atch Academy, believes the Saudi has what it takes to succeed.

“He is a fighter who has a lot of potential and we have to work to be at the best level. He is very dedicated in what he does,” Nazil said.

“As far as our future is concerned, we try to go slowly, step by step and we hope to be at the best level.”

Chelsea FC hosts open iftar for Muslims at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea FC hosts open iftar for Muslims at Stamford Bridge
Updated 27 March 2023

Chelsea FC hosts open iftar for Muslims at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea FC hosts open iftar for Muslims at Stamford Bridge
  • Ramadan celebrated at football club as part of its No To Hate campaign

LONDON: Chelsea football club hosted its first Open Iftar on Sunday, bringing Muslims together to break their fast at the Stamford Bridge stadium. 

The iftar was organized in partnership with the Ramadan Tent Project, a UK charity dedicated that brings communities together and expands understanding of the holy month. 

(Supplied/Chelsea FC)

The event began with a speech by Dowshan Humzah, advisory board member of the charity and was followed by speeches from Daniel Finkelstein, the chairman of the Chelsea Foundation, and former Chelsea player Paul Canoville.

”We are a big community with lots of supporters from different backgrounds and we want to honor, respect and share the joy of every single fan,” Finkelstein said.

“This is about saying yes to love, inclusion, community and yes to everyone who wants to be a Chelsea fan. 

“It’s very special to be the first Premier League club to host an Open Iftar and something we are extremely proud about.”

(Supplied/Chelsea FC)

Imran Abu Hassan led prayers after the speeches.

The event was part of Chelsea and the foundation’s No To Hate campaign against racism and discrimination.

Saudi national team in training ahead of Bolivia friendly

Saudi national team in training ahead of Bolivia friendly
Updated 27 March 2023

Saudi national team in training ahead of Bolivia friendly

Saudi national team in training ahead of Bolivia friendly
  • The Green Falcons are holding one final training session before the Bolivia match on Monday evening, open to the media

JEDDAH: The Saudi Arabia national team continued their training camp on Sunday ahead of Tuesday's friendly with Bolivia at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal stadium.

The training session was held under the supervision of head coach Herve Renard, and included possession exercises and mini-matches.

Players Hassan Al-Tambukti, Abdel-Rahman Al-Aboud and Riyad Sharahili had to miss out on the training session due to injury.

The Green Falcons are holding one final training session before the Bolivia match on Monday evening, which is open to the media.

Legends of the game renew acquaintances at LIV Golf Orlando

Legends of the game renew acquaintances at LIV Golf Orlando
Updated 27 March 2023

Legends of the game renew acquaintances at LIV Golf Orlando

Legends of the game renew acquaintances at LIV Golf Orlando
  • LIV Golf Orlando takes place at Orange County National in Florida from March 31-April 2
  • Danny Lee of Iron Heads GC sank a birdie putt on the third playoff hole to claim the individual LIV Golf Tucson title

ORLANDO: The third event of the LIV Golf League, LIV Golf Orlando, takes place at Orange County National in Florida from March 31-April 2.

Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers GC and Charles Howell III were the team and idividual winners at the league opener, LIV Golf Mayakoba, in Mexico. 

Fireballs GC, featuring captain Sergio Garcia, Abraham Ancer, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz, subsequently captured the team win at LIV Golf Tucson in Arizona

Danny Lee of Iron Heads GC sank a birdie putt from off the green, on the third playoff hole, to claim the second individual title, in dramatic style, in Tucson.
LIV Golf’s 12 teams include reigning Open Champion Cameron Smith, World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, two-time major winner Dustin Johnson and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.

More than a quarter (13) of the league’s star-studded, international field are major champions, with 24 major victories amongst them. The field of 48 players represents 16 different nations, includes 18 Olympians, and has made 125 combined appearances in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, with more than half of the league having competed in the biennial team events.

In total, LIV Golf League players have amassed 530 worldwide wins across multiple tours, and four players have held the title of World No. 1.

This is the first official season of the LIV Golf League, with a 14-tournament schedule being hosted in seven different countries at some of the world’s top courses. Players are in pursuit of the 2023 LIV Golf Individual Championship and 2023 Team Championship, and after two events, Charles Howell III sits atop LIV Golf`s individual standings with 56 points.

The team standings, which decide seeding for the season-ending Team Championship, are currently led by captain Dustin Johnson’s 4Aces GC (48 points).

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October
Updated 27 March 2023

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October

UFC 294: Predicting fight line-up for Abu Dhabi in October
  • As UFC heads to Yas Island stellar main event may see return of Ireland’s favorite son
  • Potential bouts could see Islam Makhachev defend title, Khamzat Chimaev back in action

ABU DHABI: UFC 294 will see the all-conquering mixed martial arts promotion return to Abu Dhabi on Oct. 21.

The event will mark the last of the current five-year deal between the UFC and the UAE capital.

There will likely be another partnership announced before a fist is thrown in anger at the Etihad Arena, but as with the previous sold-out shows it is expected UFC 294 will be one of the most talked-about cards of the year.

So far, no official bouts have been announced, but there will certainly be a title fight or two. Here are some likely scenarios that will shape the latest Abu Dhabi showdown.

Islam Makhachev to defend his lightweight title

The Dagestani has happy memories of fighting in Abu Dhabi. At UFC 280 he grabbed the lightweight championship from Charles Oliveira with a dominant display that had the Etihad Arena crowd on their feet.

Similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov before him, Islam Makhachev commands a huge following in the UAE, and it will be no surprise to see him topping the bill at UFC 294.

There is currently no natural challenger from the lightweight division that makes sense. Oliveira (ranked No. 1) is taking on Beneil Dariush (No. 4) on May 5, while Dustin Poirier (No. 2) and Justin Gaethje (No. 3) do not currently have a fight booked.

The most likely option is to book another super fight between Makhachev and the current featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski. Makhachev may have grabbed a unanimous decision victory over the Australian back in February, but the fight was his toughest test to date. Makhachev versus Volkanovski part two would be a worthy headlining bout. But there could be a surprise in the mix for Makhachev. More on that to come.

Khamzat Chimaev finally gets a fight

For various reasons, the undefeated Khamzat Chimaev has not fought since rag-dolling Kevin Holland and beating him within three minutes in September. His bogeyman status in the welterweight division seems to have had an effect on potential matchups.

If the Chechnya-born fighter is to be believed, then he has been ducked by Colby Covington (No. 2) and most of the middleweight division too.

One thing is for certain, he wants to fight in Abu Dhabi.

Chimaev told “The MMA Hour”: “October will be a big show in Abu Dhabi — it’s like, for me, home country. I like that place. It feels good there.”

His target? The current welterweight champion, Leon Edwards. Although this would be what many fans would want, it is unlikely the British fighter would be willing to climb back into the octagon so soon after his March victory over Kamaru Usman.

Barring any injuries, Chimaev will be on the card. Who he fights is another question entirely.

Jiri Prochazka versus Jamahal Hill for the light heavyweight title

Jiri Prochazka had to relinquish the light heavyweight belt following a shoulder injury that a UFC doctor described as “the worst” he had ever seen.

The always-entertaining Czech fighter had to sit on the sidelines and watch Jamahal Hill overcome Glover Teixeira for the vacant title. Prochazka is still recuperating but told MMA Fighting that “it (the injury) is getting much better than people expected” as he targets a summer return.

However, given the nature of the injury, a slightly longer spell is likely required, and Prochazka against Hill could be the second title fight on the UFC 294 card.

The return of Conor McGregor

It is a long shot, and there would need to be an incredible series of events to allow it, but Conor McGregor fighting at UFC 294 is not impossible. Unlikely, sure, but there is a chance.

McGregor has been out of the octagon for the past two years. A broken leg and then a role in the upcoming “Road House” movie reboot has delayed the return of the UFC’s biggest draw. His next fight will be against fellow lightweight contender Michael Chandler.

The pair are currently opposition coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show, the finale of which will see the two square off against each other. The earliest this bout can take place is in August, which would not leave much time to recover and recuperate before UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi.

But, and it is a huge one, if the Irishman was to make light work of Chandler and escape unscathed, then a title fight with Makhachev is possible.

It is not exactly fair to the fighters that have remained active in the division, but putting McGregor at the front of the queue for a shot at Makhachev’s belt breaks all kinds of UFC PPV records. Stranger things have happened.